Historical Seasons > Past Symposiums

Symposium 100 - Symphonic Chamber Music

Sunday, 11 December 2011 @ 5:00pm
Monday, 12 December 2011 @ 5:00pm

Symphonic Chamber Music from the 18th Century
On Period Instruments


  • Prelude and Fugue No. 5 for Violin, Viola, and Cello in C Minor, K 404a (1782)


    after Johann Sebastian Bach, Organ Sonata No. 2, BWV 526


    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Concerto for Fortepiano no. 13 in C Major, K 415/387b (1782-83)

    Version for Fortepiano, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello

         RONDEAU: Allegro



  • Symphony Quintetto after Symphony No. 101 »The Clock«

    for Flute, String Quartet and Fortepiano

         MENUETTO: Allegretto
         FINALE: Vivace


    Franz Joseph Haydn
    arr. Johann Peter Salomon
  • Five-octave Viennese fortepiano by Thomas and Barbara Wolf, 2009, after Johann Schantz, c 1800.

    This instrument is in the collection of Kenneth Slowik, Artistic Director of the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society, in Washington, DC.

Program Notes by James Roe, Artistic Director


    Program Overview

    Helicon’s 100th Symposium looks at a little-known area of 18th-century cultural life, music written specifically for domestic entertainment.  In the pre-WQXR world, music in the home had to be performed live, and the sonatas, trios, quartets, etc., which were staples of 18th-century domestic music making remain a part of our concert life today.  There was also a desire—a market demand, in fact—to hear the latest symphonic works in the home.  Enterprising 18th-century musicians met this demand by producing and publishing chamber versions of symphonic works.  Helicon’s setting is ideally suited to these reconfigured symphonies, and so are our instruments.


    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
    Prelude and Fugue No. 5 for Violin, Viola, and Cello in C Minor, K 404a (c 1782)
    after Johann Sebastian Bach, Organ Sonata No. 2, BWV 526

    “I go every Sunday at twelve o’clock to Baron van Swieten,” wrote Mozart to his father in April 1782, “where nothing is played but Handel and Bach.  I am presently collecting the fugues of Bach—not only of Sebastian, but also of Emanuel and Friedemann.”

    Baron Gottfried vanSwieten (1733-1803) was an important patron in Classical-era Vienna.  His life intersected not only with Mozart, but also with Haydn and Beethoven.  The gatherings to which Mozart refers, were of a small group of musicians who met for study, performance, and discussion of the music of Bach and Handel.  Ten days after the above letter to his father, Mozart wrote to his sister, “Baron van Swieten, to whom I go every Sunday, gave me all the works of Handel and Sebastian Bach to take home with me.”  From this introduction ensued Mozart’s lifelong dedication to the music of Bach.

    It is believed that Mozart created his group of six “Preludes and Fugues” for string trio for the van Swieten gatherings.  In these works, he took three-part keyboard works by Bach or his son Wilhelm Friedemann, extricated the independent musical lines and reworked them for violin, viola, and cello.  By assigning each “voice” of the original keyboard work to a separate melody instrument, Bach’s intricate counterpoint could be heard with new clarity.

    Baron van Swieten’s gatherings were not open to the public, but I don’t think anyone would mind if we listen in today.


    Concerto for Fortepiano No. 13 in C Major, K 415/387b (1782-3)
    Version for Fortepiano, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello

    “Mr. Mozart, Kapellmeister, wishes to announce to the most worthy public the appearance in print of three of his recently contrived concertos for fortepiano.  These three concertos may be performed not only with a large orchestra including wind instruments, but also a quattro, that is, with two violins, one viola and violoncello.  They will be issued early in April of this year.”

    As this advertisement from 1783 shows, Mozart and his publishers were eager for a wide distribution of his newest set of concertos, the first published after his move to Vienna and among the few published during his lifetime.  The flexible orchestration allowed for concert hall performances as well as those in the home.

    Mozart described these pieces to his father in a letter dated, 28 December 1782:

    “These concertos are a happy medium between what is too easy and too difficult; they are very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, and natural without being vapid.  There are passages here and there from which connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction; but these passages are written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why.”

    The last of the three concertos in this group, which we hear on tonight’s program, is the quirkiest.  Mozart offers many surprises, often effortlessly jumping between contrasting emotions or affects with little or no warning.  Don’t worry.  Follow him where he leads, you’ll be delighted you did.  His wit is evident right to the end, as the whole concerto trails off coyly in a quiet tickle.


    Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) transcription by Johann Peter Salomon (1745-1815)
    Symphony Quintetto after Symphony No. 101 »The Clock«
    for Flute, String Quartet, and Fortepiano (1793-4)

    In 1828, Samuel Wesley, lecturer at London’s Royal Institution, spoke on the subject of “Chamber Music”.  He recommends “certain invaluable Works originally constructed for a full Band that have been very ingeniously contracted for the convenient Accommodation of small musical Parties: — and among them let me instance twelve delectable Symphonies of Haydn, which have been reduced from the Score with extraordinary Ingenuity and accurate Judgement, by the late accomplished and energetic Master of his Art, Johann Peter Salomon, and nicely adapted for two Violins, Viola, Cello, Flute and a supporting accompaniment on the Fortepiano”

    Salomon was a violinist, composer, and an important musical impresario in London, and the reasons that his chamber versions of Haydn symphonies were still popular in London decades after they were written will become readily apparent when you hear tonight’s performance.  It was Salomon who brought Haydn to London in 1790 and then again in 1794, where the composer enjoyed great success both musically and financially.  Salomon served as the concertmaster for Haydn’s London orchestra concerts and so when he convinced the composer to give him the rights to make chamber transcriptions of his symphonies, no one was better qualified for the job. 

    Because our contemporary culture’s need for hausmusik is usually met with the aid of electricity (and often an invention or two of Steve Jobs), we are cut us off from the kind of music on tonight’s program.  Yet this kind of intimate music making—among friends and away from the bright lights and music critics found in the concert hall—has a special appeal and deserves revival.

    English clergyman and amateur musician, Thomas Twinning (1735-1804), once requested an invitation to what he fondly called a “snug quartet party” with Haydn.  He went on to say that “I know not how it is, but I really receive more musical pleasure from such private cameranious fiddlings, and singings, and keyed instruments playings, than from all the trappings of public and crowded performances.”